US Patent Law for European Patent Professionals

nemeth

I was given a copy of US Patent Law for European Patent Professionals, by Audrey Nemeth to review, read it quite quickly and forgot to publish something. Now that the IPKAT has published a review, it has spurred be to get around to this myself.

The IPKAT’s review is here.

The book was written by a European patent attorney whilst preparing for the US patent agent license. It looks at US Patent Law from a European perspective.

Bibliographic data: hardback, xxviii + 215 pages. ISBN 9789041160447. Book’s web page hereAudrey Nemeth’s blogpost introducing this book on the Kluwer Patent Blog is here.

One of the most interesting points that it raised is the different histories behind the patent laws and the different basic philosophies that affect terminology, prosecution and patentable subject matter.

In Europe, for a patent claim to be valid it must describe an invention having novelty, utility and inventive step. In the US one requires novelty, utility and non-obviousness. I expect that most practitioners are aware of this, but haven’t necessarily thought about the difference in any depth.

As a result of this book showing the two systems side by side I realized that in Europe there is a basic philosophy employed by the Examiners during examination, that to deserve a patent, one needs to actively improve on the existing, by having an inventive step, whereas in the US, one is entitled to a patent for anything new under the sun made by man, unless it is obvious in light of the prior art.

Though similar, these concepts are not the same. In Europe, having dismissed the main claims as lacking novelty or inventive step, the Examiner may state that the dependent claims do not provide anything sufficiently significant to be considered as being an inventive step. In the US, however, the Examiner starts from the assumption that the invention is patentable and feels obliged to show how each and every claim is anticipated or obvious in light of prior art and established doctrine.

It is this fundamental difference in approaches which explains why the USPTO traditionally awarded the patent to the first to invent and even after the American Invents Act which further closes the gap between the two systems, will consider prior disclosure by the inventor as not necessarily preventing him from obtaining a patent.

Veteran Israel Practitioner David Gilat has said on many occasions that the Israel Patent Office’s job is to issue patents and there is an assumption of patentability that has to be overcome for an application to be refused. I was never convinced by that argument and on balance think that in this issue as in many others, Israel is closer to Europe and this is why during opposition proceedings, although the onus is on the opposer to show that the Examiner was wrong to allow the patent, nevertheless there is no assumption of validity. Putting aside the philosophical aspects, the book is helpful in understanding the procedural differences in both jurisdictions.

Audrey Nemeth suggests that it is sometimes justified having different parallel applications drafted for the US and Europe. I find this a little excessive and don’t imagine many clients would be willing to pay twice to have the same application drafted twice. I can, however see value in having licensed practitioners in both jurisdictions critiquing an application.

A personal note

I am not licensed in Europe or in the US, but for most of my clients, the US is the #1 patent jurisdiction. Funding and subject matter permitting, most clients see Europe as highly desirable for patent protection, although may largest client (in terms of patent work) only files in the US and the Far East, considering Europe too expensive for companies there to compete with him.

When I draft patents, I consider both the USPTO and EPO guidelines and am familiar with the differences in the maximum number of claims that don’t require excess claim fees, the different positions of the USPTO and EPO regarding multiple dependent claims, unity of invention, the two-part claim construction, preferred transition terms and annotations of the claims. I don’t prosecute directly in the US or EPO by generally provide very advanced draft responses so that the associate has little to do other than to review and put into his or her template. In most cases for the US, I use the associate’s template so that there is even less for the associate to do.

Despite 15 years of experience, and having drafted and prosecuted hundreds of patents, I found this book worth reading and useful reference to keep handy.

 

What about Japan, China and Korea?

The US and European mind-states, though not identical, reflect a Western Judeo-Christian heritage. I think that similar works covering the Korean, Japanese and Chinese patent laws would be very helpful.

I have a book in the same series that looks at IP in China. In Communist China, Intellectual Property Law preceded regular property law. I have a book on Chinese IP whose opening chapter quotes Confucius. Notably, that book has no footnotes or references to court rulings. It seems that whereas in the US and Europe, court rulings create precedent, this is not the case in China.

I know that claims that I draft are generally considered clear by European and US examiners, but often receive long lists of clarity objections in Korea.  Sometimes I can work out what the Examiner’s problem is. Sometimes I am completely flummoxed. The Examiner is, of course, looking at a translation of the English text I wrote and my copy of the Office Action is a translation of the Examiner’s comments. In this game of Chinese Whispers, I have to rely on the associate whereas in the US and Europe, we are all looking at the same English language documents.

 

One Response to US Patent Law for European Patent Professionals

  1. Nemo says:

    My (anecdotal) recollection is that the Examiners at the USPTO once regarded themselves as gatekeepers (Why do you deserve a patent?) but that changed as described (Why should we deny you a patent?) during the Reagan years. Applicants became “clients” and all that implied.

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